In the world of Hollywood, the name “Jim Carrey” means many things — “In Living Color” comic fireball; star of such wildly successful film comedies as “Ace Ventura,” “The Mask” and “Dumb and Dumber” who has also displayed admirable dramatic range in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Truman Show”; an actor who once commanded $20 million a film.
Not many would characterize him as Moby Dick or an island. But those are some of the offbeat terms Carrey uses to refer to himselfwhen describing his current state of mind.
“I’m a big whale — I got barnacles,” he says. “When I’m around, you smell an island.” He pauses, then changes his voice as an open hand moves to his mouth, “Hey, if you smell land where there isn’t any, you’ll know Jim’s about,” he says as he erupts into a boisterous, familiar laugh. “ ‘He sees himself as the great white whale.’ ”
The entertainer is sitting in a suite at a Beverly Hills hotel, contemplating what could be called a Jim Carrey renaissance. After several years below the show business radar (with the notable exception of 2014’s “Dumb and Dumber To”), he’s earned rave reviews for his nuanced performance in the current Showtime series “Kidding.” Carrey portrays the beloved upbeat host of a children’s show whose life is torn apart when one of his twin sons is killed in a car wreck.
The role, which reunites Carrey with Michel Gondry who directed him in 2004’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” showcases both Carrey’s kinetic comedy sensibilities and his uncanny ability to register inner anguish and heartache.
“Kidding,” which was just renewed for a second season, arrives in the wake of his Emmy-nominated work on the Netflix documentary “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond,” a chronicle of the making of the 1999 biopic “Man on the Moon,” in which Carrey’s channeling of the late off-kilter comedian Andy Kaufman continued even when the cameras weren’t rolling, creating havoc for the cast, crew and director Milos Forman. Carrey was also an executive producer of Showtime’s “I’m Dying Up Here,” which was just canceled after two seasons.
But what has also propelled Carrey’s reentry into the spotlight and powered his abundant creative energy are the savage political cartoons he has posted on Twitter over the past two years. His drawings vividly display his rage against the Trump machine and show the president and members of his administration as grotesque monsters destroying the country. Trump in one recent cartoon is depicted as a Godzilla-like behemoth called Greedzilla, stomping on the Capitol as terrorized people flee.
“I get furious,” Carrey says, twisting his tall, angular form on a couch as he talks about his art. “Somedays, you feel like you’ve fed the dinosaur. But at some point, the truth has to tip over in the win column. And right now, the truth is taking a beating. Right now, we’ve got liars and salesmen, people who want to single us out because of the color of our skin. We’ve got policies based on skin color in 2018. Christ! It’s incredible to me.”
Now, he’s taking his anger from the Twittersphere, beyond his 18.1-million followers, to the streets. Later this month, Maccarone Gallery in Los Angeles will host “IndigNation,” an exhibition of about 80 original Carrey political cartoons. The exhibit marks the first time his drawings will be publicly displayed and is timed to coincide with the November midterm elections. (The exhibit runs from Oct. 23 to Dec. 1.)
One of those drawings — a brutal rendition of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders with the caption, “This is the portrait of a so-called Christian whose only purpose in life is to lie for the wicked. Monstrous!” — has sparked harsh criticism even before the exhibition, particularly from Huckabee’s father, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who called Carrey a “bully” and “a Christaphobe.”
Discussing his political work, Carrey’s already high-intensity personality becomes even more animated. His rapid-fire comments are peppered with coarse language and his glares are laser-focused.
“Right now, it’s an extraordinary thing to see,” he says. “Blatant dishonesty is just accepted by 40% of the country.” Words accusing the president of treason and “selling the country out” spill out.
When asked about the animosity many Trump supporters feel toward “liberal celebrities” and the so-called “Hollywood elite” who complain about his presidency, he leans forward with fire in his eyes.
“Tell them ‘Your [expletive] president is a reality-show host!’ ” he says with a sneer, ending the declaration with a harsh F-bomb. “If I ever decide to run for president, you’re [expletive]! I can’t, because I’m Canadian. But if they ever decide to change that rule, I’ll murder you bastards!”
And his response to criticism over the Sanders drawing? “The tradition of political cartoons is that they are not meant to flatter the subject. I draw my cartoons and express my anger in a positive way.”
The high-profile reemergence of Carrey follows several years of being in a near-self-exile from Hollywood. He doesn’t bring up the specific reasons why, but there are reports of personal difficulties he was grappling with, including a now-dismissed wrongful death lawsuit following the suicide of ex-girlfriend Cathriona White.
What he does make clear is that he’d lost interest in show business during that period, participating only in smaller-scale projects, and is now only interested in moving forward on his own terms.
“I didn’t want to be in the business anymore, and I didn’t have to struggle with that because I had already left it, he says. “I’m not in it, I’m not a part of it. I’m beyond red carpets.”
He continues, “There’s just so many things happening now. The creativity, where it used to be just focused in one direction, is now just spilling out in a ton of different directions. I don’t really feel like in control of it as much as I’m riding it. I’m being drawn, I’m being painted, I’m being acted. All of these things are happening.”
“Kidding” is a key element of the “happening.” The series was created by Dave Holstein (“Weeds”) who fashioned the show’s central character, Mr.Pickles, on legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers (“Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”), with Carrey in mind.
“The first line I wrote, I fondly thought of Jim and his performance in ‘The Truman Show,’ ” Holstein says in a phone interview. In that 1998 film, Carrey plays Truman Burbank, who is unaware that his life is being broadcast and packaged as a television series. Holstein wanted that kind of poignancy to flavor Pickles’ pain.
“Jim has lived a thousand lives,” Holstein says. “He has so many experiences. When you have those three hits in 1994 back-to-back and you’re getting $20 million a movie, something happens to you that people like us will never understand. Plus, he has this wonderful elastic face that he can use as a comedian or to register emotion.”
As for Carrey, taking on the role was a no-brainer, even though it’s been decades since he committed to appear in a television series.
“This show fits into my growth, what I’m feeling, wonderfully,” he says. “The universe works in unbelievable ways for me. Something happened at a certain point, perhaps one or two years ago, where I was healing from some serious stuff. Everything appeared to be not so weighty. This part came to me because I needed to act this. I needed to understand grief. It’s also a beautiful story. The most [messed] up thing about our society is that pain is seen as a symptom of a negative thing. There are movements of life. People die.”
In the series, Jeff Pickles, Jeff Picarillo, a.k.a. Mr. Pickles, is trying to make the best of his devastation, continuing with his show while coping with his sanity. He still adores his wife, Jill, even though their marriage is another casualty of the accident. And although he wants to be more honest with his young audience about dealing with death and despair, his bosses are fearful that such talk could negatively affect the Mr. Pickles multimillion-dollar merchandising empire.
The role proved to be a bit of a challenge. “It’s never easy — emotional stuff is never easy,” he says. “First of all, you have to act the happiest you’ve been in your life because something amazing is happening to your character. Then you have to go back and play a scene where you’re screaming your lungs out and banging your head against the wall and you’re at the bottom of the pit. And it’s in the same day!
“Or you start the grieving or the outlandishly emotional scene in the morning and you have to shoot it all day. from every angle. You have to shoot all the other people’s angles as well. So all day long, you have this thing in your mind that got you there. So you’re sitting on the sidelines and people are coming up to you saying, ‘Man, this is great. I really love what they’re doing in there. How’s everything going with you, man?’ And you’re like fanning the gas pedal. Vrrroom, vrooom! You’re just spinning in this thing that’s allowing the pain to flow. It’s a very strange thing with your life. My God, what a thing to do to yourself!”
“I think he’s one of the great actors of all time,” says Judy Greer, who plays Jill. “I’ve enjoyed his performances in these eclectic group of movies he’s done. He’s such a beautiful actor and such a beautiful person. I didn’t meet him until the camera test, and I was really nervous. But he’s very easy to work with and very willing to tackle what was in front of us. I really wanted to do good for him. I wanted to step up my game and make him proud.”
One of the key attractions for Carrey with “Kidding” was getting to work again with former music video director Gondry, who in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” directed the role that was not only one of his most acclaimed performances, but a dramatic breakthrough following the zaniness of “The Mask” and “Dumb and Dumber.” In the film, he played a shy and introverted loner who enters a roller-coaster romance with a free spirit played by Kate Winslet.
“It’s like Michel and I never stopped hanging out,” Carrey said. “Just a lot of fun, artistic stuff.”
Said Gondry in an email: “Look at Jim’s imitation of Brezhnev on Letterman in the ’80s, or his Clint Eastwood transformation. This is art. ‘Dumb and Dumber’ is one of my favorite movies. But I noticed a little bit of loneliness in the edge of his eyes. When he digs into this loneliness, just a bit, the difficulties of life come right at you and he becomes very complex. Then he brings back the elastic comedy as a thin layer and you have a Jim that can blow your mind.”
Carrey hasn’t totally abandoned the wacky. He’s in production on Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog” playing Robotnik, a villain in the live action/CGI adaptation of the hit Sega video game.
Personally and professionally, he’s experiencing what he refers to as a “subtler high” than at the height of his fame.
“I’m ready to do it again in a way that I understand better,” he says. “I’m not a Hollywood thing. I don’t think of myself as a celebrity. I’m a lucky guy that people know. Thank God, it gives them a good feeling when they see my face.”